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Just finished a stunning book, The Girl with Seven Names by Hyanseo Lee. If you, like me, know little about North Korea and how it came to be what it is today, you’ve got to read this book. It’s a memoir written by a young woman who escaped from North Korea about 9 years ago. Her journey – and I mean JOURNEY – is harrowing, frightening, amazing, heart-rendering all at the same time. She chronicles the lives of the Kims (Kim Il-Sung, Kim Jong-Il to current Kim Jong Un), shares the strict propaganda that surrounds every North Korean citizen, the poverty and hunger, as well as the underground black market for food and goods. It took her awhile to get from North Korea, to China and eventually to South Korea, where she currently lives. She’s well educated and speaks English quite well. She was invited to be a speaker at a TED talk – you know about those, right? TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) is a media organization which posts talks online for free distribution, under the slogan “ideas worth spreading.” I listen to them as  podcasts now and then. Always very educational, if sometimes over my head when it gets very technical. She works diligently for human rights now, doing her best to help other North Koreans escape. You owe it to yourself to read this book.

Also just finished reading The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian. Another WOW book. I’ve always liked the author – many years ago I read his book, Midwives (don’t confuse this book with the one I recently read and is reviewed below) and really liked it. I think we read it in one of my book groups. He’s a brilliant writer, and this one has a lot of characters and twists. It’s a novel, but based on a lot of truth regarding the Armenian genocide. Most of the book takes place in Aleppo, Syria with some good Samaritan folk trying to help rescue people (mostly children) following the forced long marches the Turks made prodding the Turkish Armenians to exit their country. But it also jumps to near present day as a family member is trying to piece together obscure parts of her grandparents’ former lives there. She uncovers some hidden truths (many survivors of the genocide never-ever wanted to talk about it) and a bit more about her Armenian heritage. A riveting book – I could hardly put it down. Lots to discuss for a book club read. I simply must read more of Bohjalian’s books (he’s written many).

The Good Widow: A Novel by Lisa Steinke. All I can say is “wow.” In a general sense, this book is based on the premise of The Pilot’s Wife. But this one has some totally different twists and turns. A young wife is met at the door by police, informing her that her husband has died in an auto accident. Then she finds out he died in Hawaii – not Kansas, where she thought he was, on business. Then she finds out there was a woman in the car. Then she meets the fiance of the woman passenger and the two of them embark on a fact-finding mission in Hawaii to discover the truth. Well, I’m just sayin’ . . . the plot thickens. And thickens. And thickens clear up to the last few pages. Hang onto your seat. A really, really good, suspenseful read.

The Girl Who Wrote in Silk by Kelli Estes. What a WONDERFUL book. It opens up a shameful part of America’s past, but one you might not have heard about before this. In the late 1800s thousands of Chinese workers were brought to the West Coast to help with a variety of construction projects and a myriad of other things where laborers were needed. Many settled, married and made a new life for themselves. But suddenly the white population didn’t want them here anymore and they summarily ordered them ALL out of our country. This book chronicles a young Chinese girl, who was on a ship that was supposed to take her family to China, but the ship’s captain decided en route to dump them all overboard, to drown. The girl’s father knew it was going to happen and in order to save her, he threw his daughter off the ship as they were passing Orcas Island (in the San Juan Islands west of Seattle). She was saved. The book switches from that time to current time as a woman is rebuilding her family’s home on Orcas and finds a beautifully embroidered silk Chinese robe sleeve hidden under a stair step. The book is about that sordid past and the young girl’s descendents, and about the woman who is rebuilding. Stunner of a novel. Good for a book club read, I think. It has a reader’s guide at the back with good questions for book groups.

How It All Began: A Novel by Penelope Lively. I find it hard to describe this book – it’s wonderful. I loved it. But describing it is perplexing. The title relates to one of the characters, a woman of a certain age, who is mugged, and has to go live with her daughter and son in law for awhile since she’s stuck with crutches and has mobility problems. That starts the cavalcade of events that spread around her, with the characters. And she knows nothing whatsoever about them, hardly. They’re all somewhat inter-related (not much family, but mostly by circumstance) and they all get into some rather logical and some peculiar relationships. You engage  with each and every one of them; at least I sure did; and was trying to tell some of them to back away from what they were about to do. Or “be careful;” or “don’t go there.” That kind of thing. There is nothing insidious, no mystery involved – it’s all about these people and what happens to them. I was sad when the book was finished. The author, Lively, does add a chapter at the end – I wonder if it wasn’t part of the master plan – that kind of tidies up everything, and you get to see all of the characters move on with their lives, happy or not, but mostly happy. Really enjoyed the book. Am not sure it would be a good book club read, as the only thing to discuss are the characters themselves. Lively paints these characters well; you can just picture them as they get themselves in and out of relationship mischief.

The Last Midwife: A Novel by Sandra Dallas. It’s a very, very good read. It tells the story of an older married woman who lives in a small mining town in the Colorado rockies (this is the mid-1800’s), and is well known by all because she’s the only midwife in the area. Often people can’t pay her anything, or very little for her days of service with little or no rest or food. Suddenly, a couple accuse her of strangling their infant. Hence the story is about how this small town rallies or rails for or against Gracy. She didn’t commit the crime, but not everyone can be convinced since the angry father is a wealthy and influential man in the area. There’s plenty of relationship issues here, which make really great fodder for a novel. And there are plenty of characters in the book that you’ll love or hate. Some secrets get dredged up too. Oh, such a good read.

 

Tasting Spoons

My blog's namesake - small, old and some very dented engraved silver plated tea spoons that belonged to my mother-in-law, and I use them to taste my food as I'm cooking.

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Posted in Desserts, on March 11th, 2016.

apple_bread_crumb_pudding

Every so often I tell you – MAKE THIS. Here’s one of those occasions. It may not look all that special, but if you’ve read my blog long enough to trust my advice, then this is a dessert you need to make.

A few weeks ago I had a luncheon at my house. It was a fund-raising event for my P.E.O. chapter. I do some kind of an event every year and ladies in my P.E.O. sisterhood sign up and pay money to come to my house for whatever it is I’ve organized. The money is donated to the chapter (and money sent to Cottey College, in Iowa, to help support that small, but growing women’s college). Another sister had suggested that I borrow a DVD from her from her collection of The Great Courses. Renowned lecturers and professors present 45+ minute videos about a variety of things, from history, to science, to literature. Alice had recommended I look at the history segments and choose one that the group (10 of us) would watch.

So, I planned the lunch. I chose a video about the far-reaching effects of the Opium Wars of the 1600s (which affected world trade and still does today). I’d intended to choose something about American history, but found the Opium War one a bit more interesting. Nevertheless, I planned a menu revolving around old-American recipes. Months before my co-hostess and I divided up the food to prepare and invitations sent out, etc. Then, bless her heart, Linda, got sick and ended up in the hospital, so I hosted the event alone and doing all the food. I was a bit pooped-out by the end of the day, I’ll tell you! My friend is doing okay, is home and now taking new heart medication.

After watching the video, I did a sherry tasting. Staying true to the old-America theme, I knew that gentile women, back in the 1800s would only have partaken of sherry in the “drawing room” or the “parlour.” So I dug out some small liqueur glasses (at one time, years ago, I had some sherry glasses, but I don’t know what happened to them). I bought a bottle of sherry for this, but then thought – oh, I should look in my liquor closet and see what I have. Hmmm. Nothing less than 7 bottles of varying types of sherry. Two duplicates too! I do use sherry in cooking, and sometimes the recipe will call for very dry, or medium, or amontillado, or fino, etc. One of my PEO sisters helped me with the pouring while I worked a bit in the kitchen. Anyway, we progressed from very dry, to Bristol Cream and everything in between. Most of them had never tasted the different types, so they learned something. And definitely it needed to be Spanish sherry. During early America days, sherry was brought across the sea in huge casks on ships.

We sat down for the lunch, and I explained to everyone about the history of Country Captain, the main dish I had decided to make and one I posted about in 2010. It’s a chicken stew, of sorts, that originated in India, but came to the Americas via Savannah. It’s a mild curry dish loaded with bell peppers and onions, then topped with condiments (this time I used toasted coconut, toasted almonds and fresh bananas). It’s served over white rice.

Then I served this dessert. It originally appeared in a cookbook called Miss Leslie’s Complete Cookery (published in 1837) and Tori Avey, a food blogger, mostly of old time American recipe, knows from her copious research, that Mary Todd Lincoln bought the cookbook (some archive actually has the receipt of the purchase), and since it may have been her only cookbook (such books were few and far between back then) it’s assumed that either she (or the family cook) would have prepared this apple dish for the President for sure. I read Tori’s blog post to my group.

And everyone raved about it. Did I say several people asked if they could lick the plate? They did ask, but of course, no one did. I wanted to also. I’m so happy I still have a serving left which I’ll enjoy today sometime. WITH the little bit of nutmeg-almond-cream poured over it.

What’s GOOD: this dessert is just unctuous. I don’t use that word much, so you can take that to mean it’s something very special. It’s soft and warm and comforting and ever-so American like apple pie, but without all the fat from a pie crust. Do serve it with the nutmeg enhanced cream. It almost “made” the dish IMHO.

What’s NOT: it takes a bit of time to peel and slice 11 apples, but it’s SO worth the time in doing so. A real keeper of a recipe.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 14/15 file (click on link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Apple Bread Crumb Pudding

Recipe By: From a food blog: toriavey.com
Serving Size: 12

12 small Granny Smith apples
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 1/2 teaspoons nutmeg
1/4 cup unsalted butter — plus more for greasing the dish
1 1/4 cup brown sugar — [I used dark brown]
1 cup bread crumbs — (homemade crumbs from artisan bread are best)
CREAM SAUCE:
1 pint heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon almond extract

NOTE: If you buy artisan bread for this (recommended) pulse the crumbs in the food processor, but leave them with just a bit of texture – a few pieces of 1/4″ chunks will be fine. [I used about a third of a ciabatta loaf.]
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Peel and core the apples, then slice them very thin (use a mandoline if you have one). Place the slices in a large mixing bowl. Pour lemon juice and lemon zest over the apples along with the nutmeg. Toss the apples with a spatula till evenly coated by the lemon juice, zest, and nutmeg. [I poured the juice and zest in the bottom of the bowl, and after slicing 2 apples at a time, I used my hands to toss and coat the apples with the juice. By the end, there won’t be any juice left in the bowl – the apples will absorb it all.]
2. Chop the unsalted butter into many very small chunks.
3. Grease a 9×13 baking dish with unsalted butter. Create a single thick layer of apple slices on the bottom of the dish, covering the entire surface with apples.
4. Sprinkle a generous layer of brown sugar on top of the apples. Dot a few bits of butter across the top of the sugar, then sprinkle a thin layer of bread crumbs on top of the butter. Repeat the layering, finishing with a thin layer of bread crumbs.
5. Bake uncovered for 50-60 minutes, until the edges are brown, the pudding is cooked through, and the apples are soft. Use a knife to test the apples. Serve warm with cream sauce. [If you use a different sized baking dish, it may take longer to bake – use a knife to test the apples, as the recipe indicates.]
6. SAUCE: Pour heavy cream into a small pot and warm slowly over medium heat, whisking as it warms. When it begins to boil, whisk in powdered sugar, nutmeg and almond extract. Remove from heat and strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a serving pitcher. It will form a skin if not served immediately. [This can be made a day ahead, left out at room temp, and reheated in 200°F oven for about an hour.]
Per Serving: 339 Calories; 19g Fat (49.8% calories from fat); 2g Protein; 41g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 65mg Cholesterol; 102mg Sodium.

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  1. hddonna

    said on March 12th, 2016:

    This is unique among all the old-timey apple dessert recipes I’ve come across. Definitely something I’ll want to make.

    Oh, I hope you do, Donna. So many others may just look at the recipe and go right on past, thinking it’s just like any other apple dessert, but it’s truly NOT like all the others. I want to make this again. Soon. It was so delicious! . . . carolyn t

  2. hddonna

    said on March 13th, 2016:

    I think your choice of bread here–ciabatta–is inspired. I do a version of Smitten Kitchen’s scalloped tomatoes, and it is way better when I make it with ciabatta than with other breads. It absorbs the liquid but doesn’t just turn into mush–it still has some texture. I would think it would perform similarly here.

    Well, I think the original recipe called for “artisan” bread, and going to Trader Joe’s, the only one I thought could possibly equate to that was the ciabatta. And yes, it certainly has more form and texture. It’s NOT a soft bread, for sure. . . carolyn t

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